The day you got conscious of your screen time
Everyone on the Internet literally wants one thing and it’s f@cking disgusting — your attention… all the time.
How much time do you think you spend on your mobile phone?
If you haven’t checked it yet, I say mentally play along.
Personally, I thought it wasn’t more than an hour or so. I could have sworn that on my life. I still mentally kept my answer “around 3 hours”. I have a conscious analytical personality. I checked the “Digital Wellbeing” section on my android phone and — 10 hours!
“I don’t have that kind of time! This is not true! It’s bullshit! I did nawt…”
I have always complained about not having enough time to read a book, complete a course, or get non-office things done.
“Bullshit! This probably accounts for the time I listen to music without looking at the screen.”, exclaimed my little sister when I recently confronted her about her 11 hours of screen time. Still 10+ hours! Something was not right. I am not wrong here. I just open my social media in-between work hours to relax. Motherf — !
I took this feedback very gracefully.
After staying in denial for a couple of weeks, I started reading blogs… on my mobile phone. I watched youtube videos… on my mobile phone. I talked to a couple of “technically-aware” friends… on tea breaks (it was 2019 and back then we could meet people offline and enjoy the literal “Chai Pe Charcha” [Translation: Discussion Over Tea]).
The answer was simple — social media was a bitch! Not just the Zuckerberg-powered ones (Facebook, Instagram), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Steve Huffman (Reddit), Larry Page (Google), and thousands of other creators with their million sites and their infinite scroll (the concept where you don’t have to refresh the page and you continue getting fresh content upon scrolling mindlessly); everyone on the Internet literally wants one thing and it’s fucking disgusting — my attention all the time. I’ll try and explain in simple non-technical jargon.
Imagine. It’s not the year 2020. You’re at your grandmom’s house (maternal/paternal you choose).
Your grandma serves you a delicious thali with Chole-Poori and there is Aaloo Sabzi and Jeera Rice and Cucumber Raita _(why not!). You have the time of your life. Your grandmother brings another_ poori because she knows you will love it. You’re full but what-the-hell — keep them coming, Grandma! You devour every last crumb off your plate. You’re FULL full! Wait… grandma is getting the kheer because she KNOWS you love kheer _❤. You give in to your temptation. Now you are not feeling too good about stuffing yourself so much. You could have just stopped at the thali and have the kheer later (because everyone knows that a cold kheer tastes better). But you let your temptation decide and now it hurts (but in a good way).
Your big Internet companies are like this grandmother. Except they don’t love you. Also the kind of financially-beneficial content in your face-stuffing they do, only benefits them for a major part.
These companies know what you like — your kheer. They keep stuffing you up as much as you can humanly take.
You might argue — but I haven’t really told my grandmother what I like, how would she even know I like kheer! Well, she knows how you gobbled up three full cups of kheer last summer when you visited. Even a machine with a pretty basic algorithm can figure that part out :)
We are seeing you were engaged with a tweet about muggles doing illegal things in Hogwarts for around 30 seconds - Cool! Now let’s never show you anything that may present them in a better light otherwise you might leave our app.
The companies keep you engaged with their smart algorithms that recognize your usage patterns and you don’t even realize spending hours and hours of your time. Here you are stuffing yourself up on their custom-made just-for-you content feed. You constantly keep eating up the virtual kheer because they know you like kheer otherwise you will leave the app (probably not in the case of your grandmother).
That’s how far I could stretch the metaphor!
The problem is NOT that you are using your phone a lot. The real problem is when you are using it subconsciously. You are not in control most of the time and your device has become something that can manipulate you.
I tried reducing this subconscious screen time. There are a few things I tried. Take this as you like (or don’t).
Push Notifications are making you anxious and distracted
Start simple and just kill the push notifications. For as many apps as possible. You don’t need to be instantly notified that Binod tagged you on a photo. It can wait until you are ready to check up on that.
There are studies that link push notifications and anxiety (and even the new rage — The Social Dilemma talks about this). I personally feel less distracted and anxious. But do not take my word for it. Try this out on a temporary basis. You might not like it at first since your brain is used to being constantly stimulated but with time, it gets better. Take control of yourself.
Remove those push notifications for all the non-urgent apps and you’ll notice better mental health and lesser screen time.
My screen time came down to 6-7 hours on average!
Recognize the motivations
Recognize the Internet company's motivation in keeping you engaged (hint: money) and what you are getting out of them in return (hint: large and artificial dopamine hits).
I recognized the apps that were keeping me the most engaged — Instagram and Facebook. They were getting money through personalized ads/promoted content their algorithms knew I would interact with (I swear I never told them). I was giving them my time and attention and in return, I was looking at my friends’ fake-candids on rocks and beaches (again this was 2019, not 2020), most of these friends were those with whom I never interacted or even intended to interact with. So then I permanently deleted my moderately active Instagram account last year.
My screen time was still 6–7 hours on an average. Huh?
Turns out bad habits don’t die. They are just replaced. I made Twitter and Reddit my new Instagram and Facebook. I needed drastic measures because I wanted to have control over my time and attention.
Make your phone as boring as possible
This is depending on how serious you are. Initially, I hid my apps - Twitter, Youtube, WhatsApp, Reddit. Then after a couple of months, I deleted most of the useless apps from my phone. It was scary how much time I suddenly had now.
My screen time is at an hour on average today :)
Screen time (Dated: 23rd September 2020)
You don’t HAVE to be online all the time.